THE Southland community is mourning the loss of one of its most passionate and prominent businessmen.
Award-winning founder and former owner of House of Travel Lakers, Tony Laker died on Sunday aged 57 after battling cancer.
Beloved husband and best friend of Tracey Laker and adored father of Meg and Flynn, Mr Laker was a born-and-bred Bluff boy who was extremely proud of his Southland roots.
His keynote speaker profile said he was the son of a fisherman who enjoyed a red & white Bluffie upbringing
After graduating from Cargill High School, he started his business career working for Trustbank Southland.
In 1999, the couple decided to open their own travel agency in Invercargill despite the advice of travel industry experts who warned them it was a terrible idea.
However, against all odds, House of Travel Lakers quickly became one of the largest and most award-winning travel companies in New Zealand.
In 2019, it was voted the best large House Of Travel office in New Zealand and also won the award for the best retail travel agency in New Zealand, from more than 400 offices, at the 2019 National Travel Industry Awards.
Mr Laker also received a lifetime achievement award at that time, one of only six, which recognised an individual for their outstanding leadership and contribution to the New Zealand travel industry.
Last year, after 22 years, he and Mrs Laker decided to leave the business to spend more time with their family.
Due to his inspiring and funny personality, Mr Laker became a highly regarded speaker in many events throughout the country.
Southland Business Chamber chief executive Sheree Carey said Mr Laker was an outstanding businessman who was the personification of the resilience of Southland people.
“He built his own company from scratch and transformed it into one of the most respected and larger travel agencies in the country.
“He was also a fantastic person and very inspiring man. He will be deeply missed by all.”
Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt said he attended a Rotary Club meeting weeks ago where Mr Laker was a speaker.
He remembered Mr Laker and his wife introduced charter flights from Invercargill to Melbourne in 2015 to give Southlanders a Melbourne Cup experience.
“He was a real innovator. He introduced the charter flights to Melbourne Cup when no-one else was even thinking of doing it.”
Sir Tim said Mr Laker was prominent in the community and a supporter of many charities.
“He served his community with passion and loyalty,” he said.
Mr Laker was also a very keen sportsman, having played for Old Boys football club for more than 20 years.
Coach Scott MacKenzie was a personal friend of Mr Laker for more than 30 years.
Many people lost their connection with their clubs when they stop playing, but Mr Laker had always been one of the team’s biggest supporters, with sponsorship, attending events and helping with fundraising.
Due to his contributions, the club’s Donald Gray team nominated him patron for this year and has decided to carry the House Of Travel Lakers branding for a second season at no charge to the business.
MacKenzie said Mr Laker was not only a player, but a very good sponsor for the club.
“He was just a genuine and nice guy who always had a smile on his face.”
A celebration of Mr Laker’s life will be held at ILT Stadium Southland at 11am on Monday.